The Non-Case Against Gay Parenting

By now you’ve probably seen the right-wing-funded study that says the children of gay parents fare far worse than the children of straight parents. And hopefully you’ve also seen that the study’s methodology was so sloppy that by its terms, Ted Haggard is a “gay dad.” But one thing I haven’t seen discussed is how the results of this study — even assuming it were accurate, which it’s not — should influence same-sex marriage rights litigation. The answer: It shouldn’t. I explain why in the Guardian. A taste:

This lazy and incredibly faulty study is already being used to argue against same-sex marriage rights for gay couples. The “gay parents are worse parents” argument shouldn’t just fail because it’s false; it should fail because even if it were true, less-than-ideal child outcomes do not justify the state’s refusal to extend the fundamental right of marriage to consenting adults.

The United States supreme court has addressed these issues before. The court has held time and again that the right to marry is of fundamental importance. Restrictions on marriage must be critically examined to see what state interests those restrictions forward, and the restrictions must be carefully tailored to further those state interests. In Loving v Virginia, the famous case on interracial marriage, the supreme court held that:

“The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”

When the state of Missouri barred the rights of prisoners to marry without the prison superintendent’s permission, the court struck down the law as unconstitutional. And when Wisconsin made it more difficult for “deadbeat dads” to get married – passing a law that required any man with unpaid child support to get a court order allowing him to enter into a new marriage – the court also struck it down, holding that the state’s justifications for the law did not outweigh the fundamental right of marriage.

It’s probably safe to say that the children of fathers who refuse to pay child support fare less well than the children of involved fathers who do financially support all of their children; children of fathers who refuse to pay child support probably also do less well than children raised in households where their biological parents are married to each other. Deadbeat dads, though, retain the fundamental right to marry. And I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that children of convicts generally fare worse than children raised in two-parent families where no one goes to jail – but convicts too can marry, even while they’re incarcerated. Similarly, children raised in low-income households tend to do less well in school and have poorer health outcomes than wealthier children. But it would be outrageous to use that data to conclude that the state has an interest in preventing poor people from getting married.

More here.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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43 Responses to The Non-Case Against Gay Parenting

  1. Some of the “bad” outcomes don’t even really hold up to scrutiny: More likely to smoke pot or have more sex partners doesn’t mean shit to me. These are morally neutral behaviors that, if performed properly, have no ill effects. If you have one partner you’re abusive of, that’s a billion times worse than being a cheery slut who isn’t ready to settle down.

  2. Anon21 says:

    Well-stated, Jill. I think what’s going on here (apart from plain old homophobia, which is obviously a huge part of it) is conservatives clinging to a conception of marriage in which the union serves the interests of society and family, as well as the personal needs and desires of the spouses. That conception has been overtaken by events in the 20th century for a whole variety of reasons, and this rearguard action against same-sex marriage is mostly a way of inflicting “traditional” standards on a minority, while the majority has long since abandoned those constraints.

    After the fight for marriage equality is won, I think it will be worth asking the question of whether the modern form of marriage (which is much less central to the distribution of property and maintenance of stability for children) still needs state recognition. I think a lot of the legal rights and obligations that currently come in the aggregated bundle of “marriage” could be better handled through individual agreement between people deciding what they want their family members to look like. Of course, there are also drawbacks to dispensing with well-understood default rules–as just one example, people without class privilege would probably have more trouble ordering their family affairs without the option of state-sanctioned marriage. But it’s at least a discussion worth having.

  3. Anon21 says:

    Correction to my last comment: “people deciding what they want their families to look like,” not “family members.”

  4. What kills me is that even if the study showed that gay parents are less capable than straight, married parents, the conclusion—to ban gay marriage—doesn’t follow. Marriage doesn’t create parents. Parenting creates parents. To concoct his study, Regnerus had to admit that legions of gay (or straight-identified experimenters or bisexual) people are already parenting. You know, without legal marriage. So banning gay marriage already has been demonstrated to not prevent gay parenting.

    At the end of the day, all he showed was that the closet fucks people up. A lot of broken homes are broken because a queer person tries really hard to be straight and then they realize down the road that you only get to live once and they will regret it if they die without having felt real romantic love and sexual satisfaction. Even though it *is* stressful on a family to have a parent come out and upend everyone’s life, in my experience, the children in these situations tend to be very understanding. The main regret is that their parent didn’t come out sooner, enabling them to avoid all the drama in the first place.

  5. Chase says:

    If opponents of same-sex marriage make studies like this a central piece of their case, the more extreme among them just might broaden the scope of who they think should be excluded from marriage, if they haven’t already. Inverting Jill’s argument seems like a natural path for them.

  6. Fat Steve says:

    By its terms, not only is Ted Haggard a ‘gay dad,’ but parents who keep their sexuality/same-sex relationships a secret from their kids aren’t gay parents.

  7. Meredith L. says:

    Can’t argue with the right wing’s logic, here. I mean, Hitler’s parents were married, right? And heterosexual? And look how well he did for himself!

  8. Ruchama says:

    And the study wasn’t even looking at children who were raised by gay parents — it was looking at the children of divorced couples, or couples who had never been married, who reported that at least one parent had had at least one same-sex relationship. There were only something like three people who had lived with the gay parent full-time.

  9. Alara Rogers says:

    What this actually says is that we need gay marriage immediately, because the *lack* of legal gay marriage is causing demonstrable harm to the children of gay people.

    Since what they did was get together a cohort of children who have one gay parent who is not legally married to a same sex partner, they’re actually looking at families where a gay parent is forced to live without the protections of marriage to their actual lover. The gay parent may have been deprived of custody because they’re gay; the straight parent may feel bitter and angry toward the gay parent because of homophobia and the emotional repercussions of a relationship ending because one partner is the wrong gender for the other; in any case, they’re looking at largely broken homes, largely broken because gay marriage is illegal.

  10. Andie says:

    Gay parents don’t harm kids.. shitty marriages do.

  11. zuzu says:

    My parents never discussed any sexual relationships they had outside the marriage with me. Why would they? How would I know about what had happened before I was born?

  12. Nawtaskollar says:

    My big issue with gay parentage is the lack of role models from both sexes. A dude raised by two other dudes isn’t going to understand or respect women to the degree he would if he had a mother who was coequal to the father. He won’t be as empathetic to women’s issues.

    A woman raised by two dudes is going to lack severely in guidance on her issues and needs.

    I guess what I’m saying is that marriage has important socialization functions regarding children. It’s existed that way for thousands of years – one of the few things about marriage that hasn’t constantly shifted. It’s true you can’t draw a neat line here – should we require interracial marriages too? But sex is *the* primary division in society, and all societies seem to have agreed upon this.

  13. Sophist says:

    Um, if your study includes children of parents who had homosexual affairs that were sufficiently indiscreet that the kids found out about them, while excluding children whose parents had homosexual affairs their family never found out about, aren’t you seriously biasing your sample towards dysfunctional families?

  14. Shawn says:

    “My parents never discussed any sexual relationships they had outside the marriage with me. Why would they? How would I know about what had happened before I was born?”

    I haven’t read the study, but I presume that the parents were divorced or otherwise separated and the kids were old enough to know their parents’ dating habits. It seems like a seriously flawed study in most ways, but this part isn’t necessarily crazy.

  15. EG says:

    Well, also, parent-child relationships vary. I’d talked to my mom about her dating experiences before my father when I was a teenager.

  16. zuzu says:

    I heard about my mother’s pre-marital dating (though not my father’s), and I couldn’t tell you if a) she had sex with any of those people; b) if she told me everything.

    I think asking people about their parents’ sexual experiences (instead of asking them about their own and then following up with the kids) is a recipe for getting an incomplete picture, likely skewed towards the dysfunctional.

  17. Wirbelwind says:

    “Conservatives clinging to a conception of marriage in which the union serves the interests of society and family, as well as the personal needs and desires of the spouses”.
    Isn’t this what marriage is for ? I mean, if you just want to have a happy time, romantic evenings and fool around a bit you don’t have to get married. Marriage is supposed to offer stability and serve the interests of the family, right ?
    Right ?

  18. librarygoose says:

    Well, also, parent-child relationships vary. I’d talked to my mom about her dating experiences before my father when I was a teenager.

    I heard all about my parents dating lives pretty much all through my life. The family favorite being that my dad once had sex with a nun. My mom’s tended to be more cautionary, “Don’t marry the first guy you sleep with just because you sleep with him, he may end up an abusive asshole.”

  19. EG says:

    My mom pretty much considers “dating” and “having sex with” to by synonymous, so…

    Marriage is supposed to offer stability and serve the interests of the family, right ?

    The distinction being made in that comment, I believe, is between the idea of marriage’s purpose being to benefit the spouses’ families of origin, and marriage’s purpose being to benefit the family the spouses themselves are forming or have formed.

  20. Alara Rogers says:

    Isn’t this what marriage is for ? I mean, if you just want to have a happy time, romantic evenings and fool around a bit you don’t have to get married. Marriage is supposed to offer stability and serve the interests of the family, right ?

    Yes, exactly. So if two individuals are a same-sex pair raising children together, they need the protections of marriage law in order to ensure that the children can get health insurance, that the family isn’t unduly burdened by taxes, that the partners are able to care for each other in old age or sickness, that both parties can act on the children’s behalf, etc.

    Prohibitions on gay marriage for the sake of the children are clown logic, because they assume that if there is no gay marriage then gay people won’t raise children together,,, which is demonstrably untrue, and has caused untold harm to families.

  21. Unree says:

    In fairness Regnerus, author of this dodgy study, had the decency to say that what he found did not say anything pro or con about same-sex marriage. Enter editorialist Ross Douthat, who wrote that Regnerus has shown us that “the distinctive advantages” of limiting marriage to opposite-sex partners “remain apparent, even as that recognition declines and disappears.” Asshat.

  22. Donna L says:

    Well, also, parent-child relationships vary. I’d talked to my mom about her dating experiences before my father when I was a teenager.

    So did I, as odd as that may sound given the fact that I was a teenager in the early 1970’s and that my mother and I weren’t mother and daughter, at least so far as she knew. It’s not as if we had conversations about her sex life prior to marriage, but I knew about at least a couple of her prior relationships, and she used to joke about the Australian sailors she met on the ship coming over from England in 1943, and she made it very clear that when she and my father got married he was a virgin and she wasn’t, and I should make absolutely sure that I was like her rather than my father in that respect. She also told me about women she’d known who were lesbians, and, as extremely heterosexual as she clearly was, I did know about her feelings for Marguerite Yourcenar when she was her student.

    However, I do agree that if my parents were having sex with other people — of any sex or gender — during my lifetime and during their marriage, it’s unlikely that I would have known about it unless they had gotten a divorce and I knew that such a relationship was a reason for it. The study is ridiculous, for that and many other reasons.

  23. Suzanne F. says:

    A dude raised by two other dudes isn’t going to understand or respect women to the degree he would if he had a mother who was coequal to the father. He won’t be as empathetic to women’s issues.

    You know, that’s such a good point. As we all know, all misogynists were raised by two men. Which is why there are so many of them.

    And no one with a mother can be a sexist. BECAUSE THEY LOVE THEIR MOTHER, DAMN IT.

    /sarcasm/

    A woman raised by two dudes is going to lack severely in guidance on her issues and needs.

    See, this is just based on the premise that a female parent will OBVIOUSLY understand a female child’s needs. Because all women are the same, and all women have the same issues and needs.

    No.

    Sure, raising a kid of the opposite sex can be a challenge. So can raising ANY kid of who differs from you in a notable way. A sports-loving parent raising a kid who loves books. A shy parent raising a party kid. A super-feminine woman raising a tomboy.
    A good parent will find a way to bridge the difference.

    My mother is arguably much more attuned to my brother’s problems than my father is. Because they have similar personalities. And because she’s more willing to listen to my brother.

    If you, as a man, do not know things about “women’s issues” (whatever that means), educate yourself. Learn what a period is. Talk to a doctor about any female-related health problems that you might not think of. Ask your female friends what issues they had growing up. Be aware of the potential problems your (female) child could face (harassment, discrimination etc.)
    Most importantly, listen to your child as they grow older. Be aware of the specific problems they face. Not all girls are the same. Not all girls face the same problems. Be willing to revise your assumptions.
    And don’t go in assuming you can’t understand your female child because you’re not female.
    t’s not rocket science.

    it’s good parenting.

    And you can do it, regardless of your gender.

  24. Tamara says:

    Plus, children have lots of role models other than their parents, eg wider family, teachers, friends’ parents and so forth. And where would that argument leave single parents of opposite sex children? Ban single parenting!

  25. EG says:

    Ban single parenting!

    Don’t give those assholes any ideas. You know they’d just love an excuse to make single mothers’ lives even more difficult.

  26. Donna L says:

    My big issue with gay parentage is the lack of role models from both sexes. A dude raised by two other dudes isn’t going to understand or respect women to the degree he would if he had a mother who was coequal to the father. He won’t be as empathetic to women’s issues.

    A woman raised by two dudes is going to lack severely in guidance on her issues and needs.

    I can’t believe people are actually dignifying this with such calm, rational responses. It’s more than I could do. I can only imagine what someone like this would say about my son (whom I can’t manage to think of as a “dude”) and the quality of the male role model I provided him. No doubt it would be seen as the explanation for my son having “turned out” to be gay. I doubt it was the explanation, given that the timing doesn’t work and that things are never that simple anyway, but even if it were, so what?

  27. No doubt it would be seen as the explanation for my son having “turned out” to be gay.

    I know, right?

    Of course, since my wife and I are both bi/pansexual, whatever our daughter winds up being is entirely our fault.

    And no one with a mother can be a sexist. BECAUSE THEY LOVE THEIR MOTHER, DAMN IT.

    /sarcasm/

    Yes, well, clearly mothers are the new black friend.

  28. EG says:

    The concerns are really far-reaching. I mean, I turned out to be a big geek who likes science fiction and fantasy and had no interest in dating whatsoever until I was almost 18, and my mom had been a cool rebel-type. HOW COULD SHE UNDERSTAND MY ISSUES? How could she guide me? It’s a miracle I made it through even though I did not have a parent as a geek role model.

    Or…it might be that parents and children are individuals who can differ in many, many different ways, and that parents can do their best to help and guide their children by learning about those differences.

  29. Li says:

    Plus, children have lots of role models other than their parents, eg wider family, teachers, friends’ parents and so forth.

    This. If I were to raise a daughter (let’s make magic pretend that we’re certain she’ll be cis) in a two-parent household with another man (frankly not my preferred family format anyway), there would still be a whole bunch of women around for her to build relationships with and a bunch of people with vulvas with whom she could talk junk business. Frankly, regardless of the gender of the other primary caregivers, I’d be astonished if we were the only role models our kids relied on.

  30. EG says:

    Whoa. What if a gay kid grows up with two straight parents? How will they guide him or her? How can they help their kid? How will the kid carry on without a parent as a gay role model?

    Clearly the only solution is to ban straight marriage for the sake of the kids.

  31. Claire K. says:

    EG, I was just thinking that! It was really hard for me growing up with straight parents who didn’t understand my issues, you know.

  32. Mxe354 says:

    My big issue with gay parentage is the lack of role models from both sexes. A dude raised by two other dudes isn’t going to understand or respect women to the degree he would if he had a mother who was coequal to the father. He won’t be as empathetic to women’s issues.

    That you’re saying all of that in absolute terms with literally no evidence gives me the impression that you’re full of shit.

    A woman raised by two dudes is going to lack severely in guidance on her issues and needs.

    Yes, because it’s impossible for parents to relate to their children and empathize with them regardless of sex! Right?

  33. Fat Steve says:

    My big issue with gay parentage is the lack of role models from both sexes. A dude raised by two other dudes isn’t going to understand or respect women to the degree he would if he had a mother who was coequal to the father. He won’t be as empathetic to women’s issues.

    A woman raised by two dudes is going to lack severely in guidance on her issues and needs.

    Role models don’t have to be parents. Unless your ‘two dads’ don’t know any women or let you socialize with women, it will be unavoidable for you to find a female role model.

    There are practical issues about two men raising a woman, related to a woman’s body and such, but there is no guarantee that these issues would be dealt with properly in a nuclear style family.

  34. piny says:

    Yes, if there’s one good indicator of respectful attitudes towards women, it’s a traditional upbringing.

    Hey, bigot, could you do us all a favor and stop talking about this as though it’s hypothetical? Gay parents are not hypothetical. They already exist. You have no right to raise nightmare hypothetical situations. If you can’t find current, real-life examples of your worst gay-related fears, you can’t pretend that they’re valid. You definitely can’t pretend that they’re a foregone conclusion. The truth is, gay men raise feminist sons. Gay men raise happy girls. (And lesbians raise happy, fulfilled, confident children too.)

  35. DoublyLinkedLists says:

    My big issue with gay parentage is the lack of role models from both sexes.

    Look at the mini-Freud over here with his very own psychoanalytic theory.

    How very 20th century.

  36. Adaquinn says:

    My thought on this is that maybe the problem isn’t that their parents are gay… Maybe the problem is that society treats thier families like crap. Perhaps because society treats the kids like they’re screwed up they become screwed up.

    Maybe all those “hey we can pick on you because GOD says” people wear that kid down. Maybe every time the kid goes to school they have to deal with the craptastic bullying from other kids that are in ‘healthy’ families.

    The cause of the problem isn’t that the parents are same sex. The problem is that people out there can’t accept that families are of all shapes, colors and faiths. Children get teased for being different.

    So fix those kids and fix their understanding of family.

  37. khw says:

    My big issue with gay parentage is the lack of role models from both sexes.

    so, no single parents either???

  38. roro80 says:

    A woman raised by two dudes is going to lack severely in guidance on her issues and needs.

    If you’re a “dude”, and you have a daughter, and you’re unwilling to learn about icky periods and tampons, you’re a shitty dad. That goes for straight and not-straight “dudes”. Hell, if you’re a dude married to a woman and you’re unwilling to learn the basics about periods and tampons and how women live in this world and how they might be discriminated against or targeted for violence or whatever “women stuff” you might mention, you’re a shitty husband. And that’s pretty much all straight guys in that category. It seems the real problem here is that you think men are entitled to healthy and fullfilling relationships with half the world population while being entirely unwilling to give a shit about their lives. They are not.

  39. DouglasG says:

    I’m not sure whether to be more amused or depressed that this study basically puts Ted Haggard and Dan Savage in the same box, and plausibly a (possibly vast) majority of people who end up hearing about the study won’t ever realize or question that.

    Has anyone seen any commentary anywhere objecting to bisexual erasure? Most of the comments I’ve read have been at sites where the commentariat tends to take a straight/gay coin-flip sort of view (even the people whom one would expect to know better – sigh).

    I’ve seen Mr Regnerus defended on the grounds that he’s been critical of or left evangelical associates/ations or groups, but can easily believe in a bit of ideological foresight bringing about the creation of public “dissent” to pave the way for the pre-determined usage to which a study would be put.

  40. Fat Steve says:

    If you’re a “dude”, and you have a daughter, and you’re unwilling to learn about icky periods and tampons, you’re a shitty dad. That goes for straight and not-straight “dudes”. Hell, if you’re a dude married to a woman and you’re unwilling to learn the basics about periods and tampons and how women live in this world and how they might be discriminated against or targeted for violence or whatever “women stuff” you might mention, you’re a shitty husband. And that’s pretty much all straight guys in that category. It seems the real problem here is that you think men are entitled to healthy and fullfilling relationships with half the world population while being entirely unwilling to give a shit about their lives. They are not.

    I think you’re buying into his nonsense that a girl raised by two men can’t have any female role models. It is important for a person to have role models of their own gender, it doesn’t mean that person has to cook your dinner or put you to bed at night.

  41. LuckyLady says:

    I won’t say that there aren’t gay couples with children who are less-than-ideal parents, but I would think that anybody who goes to the trouble and expense to have a child through some means other than the traditional route of straight couples is pretty dedicated to the idea of being a parent. That’s a lot more than can be said for a large segment of the parental population out there that seriously needs to stop reproducing.

  42. Azalea says:

    A woman raised by two dudes is going to lack severely in guidance on her issues and needs.

    My father taught me everything about cars, sports and female reproduction. My mother was not ready to have the cycle talk, my father even took me to Ruth’s Chris to celebrate my first period when I was a little girl. He’s not LGBTIQ and I had my mom but on my “needs and issues” Daddy was the one I went to.

    I think it goes without saying that children whose parents divorce have a hard time especially if the divorce was sparked by knowledge of an affair. It doesn’t matter whether one parent comes out of the closet or not a divorce can be devastating to children so this study is biased. Show us children who are raised in a loving environment with two parents (same and opposite sex) and then make irrelevant studies about how well they fare. Not every married couple has the desire or capacity to have/raise children so the right to marry should not rest on that. In fact most children are born OUTSIDE of marriage.

  43. roro80 says:

    “I think you’re buying into his nonsense that a girl raised by two men can’t have any female role models”

    No, I’m really not. Having role models outside the nuclear family is great. They don’t/wouldn’t make up for having parents that don’t care about making an effort to understand their children of the opposite gender. Dads of any sexuality don’t get to just say that all that woman stuff is gross so go talk to your teacher, any more than changing diapers or feeding the kids is solely a woman’s job anymore.

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